Pokhara

May 5, 2015

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I would like to leave my thoughts on the earthquake alone for a while, I believe I’ve said all that I can at this time. Instead, I’d like to show you how beautiful Pokhara is, and the surreal nature of us being stranded there during the natural disaster.

Pokhara is built around the Phewa lake (or Phewa Tal in the native language.) Lakeside is the main tourist area which is stacked with tall buildings, trekking shops, travel agents, massage centres and restaurants. Massage being a loose term in some circumstances, you have to be careful! The city extends back, but is limited by two hills which line the valley, and takes a turn to the left. Blanketed around the Eastern hill which peak houses the town of Sarangkot, it looks as if the city ran off the mountain side and settled in an L shape in the flat valley. This is the view from the top of the hill.

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The Annapurna Massif looms tall over Pokhara, seemingly floating in the air immediately above the city. On closer inspection, the rows of hills running up to the mountains give the impression that they are sitting on a shelf of land like a mantelpiece, to be displayed magically to all.

Annapurna I, one of only a handful of mountains in the world that is taller than 8000m, sits beautifully symmetrical in the centre, I was absolutely transfixed on it. Here it is from a town just outside Pokhara.

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The mountains aren’t always visible from the Pokhara valley, they are quite often shrouded in clouds. Annapurna I emerges out of the clouds occasionally; the last 500m of the mountain peaking over the hills and into the city, only to vanish sideways into another cloud, like a glimpse of a friend as a lift door is closing. Often, if the valley that has Phewa lake in it is cloudy then the Annapurna range is in sunlight and we had quite a few storms brew on the mountain range and descend into the valley at night. We didn’t get to see the view properly until we were boarding the bus out of Nepal, when we were confronted at the station, with this view.

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This was the most perfect day of sunshine since we had arrived.

The Phewa lake is stunning. No words could do it justice. When the sun is shining through the clouds and onto the lake, there are no words adequate to describe that beauty. This beauty.

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Now are you beginning to understand the surreal nature of our stay here? Nepal, a country devastated by one of the biggest earthquakes of all time. Reports on the news flooding in to us about destruction in Kathmandu, in the valleys to the East of us, on Everest where they had the worst disaster in the history of mountaineering on the mountain, in Langtang valley where basically the whole area was flattened and rocks were falling around hikers who were running for safety. We were sat in our guest house looking at this.

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I’m grateful, i’m extremely grateful. It’s just surreal.

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The city’s many restaurants provide an excellent range of Nepali, Tibetan, and western classics! Although don’t get the pork from the ‘Pork, Tofu, and Mixed Veg’ in ‘Old Lan Hua’ Chinese. I was SO sick!!! I mean I didn’t eat for two days after that. The double roasted pork is fine by the way, and delicious.

I mentioned Sarangkot earlier, this was amazing for us (especially Pete who was restless by the 7th day in the city), because it allowed us to trek around the local hills and get some idea of what it might have been like to go up and trek on the Annapurna circuit. One for the future, and Pete is looking for a buddy to do the full circuit with him so who’s up for it? He reckons he knows some candidates!

We climbed up through the forest near to our Hidden Paradise Guest House – here’s a picture of Pete by our room, you can imagine how sketchy it was when the room was shaking, plus the corrugated iron roof was not good in the rain. In contrast to this, there were much nicer rooms in the main building. This was the cheap, simple room.

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The guest house itself was lovely and it was so nice to stay with the family that run it throughout the earthquake period. There’ll be a post later about their cheeky little girl.

 We climbed into the rockier area, here’s a view from half way up of the paragliders that jump of the top of the hill!

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Finally we found ourselves at the top after about 2 hours.

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The view was stunning and we ate momos and Thukpa at a restaurant overlooking the city. Momos are the Nepali version of dumplings, it is interesting that most cultures in the world have some form of this food. They’re delicious! we had them almost every day. Thukpa is a Tibetan noodle soup eaten most commonly with vegetables like carrots and cabbage.

So we spent the days, that we were trying to accrue information about the state of the rest of Nepal, in this beauty. Sitting in the cafes next to the lake, trying to convince ourselves that by giving the cafes money we were helping the local economy survive what would be an almost total loss of tourism in the next few months. Trying to decide whether to stay or go, or how to stay or go, talking to other tourists.

These guys always hung out by the lake.

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Huh?!

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There was a lot of construction going on in Lumbini and Pokhara, these are generally the methods that you see in Asia to hold up a roof until it’s built.

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One quick side note, the moment we arrived in Nepal we noticed that the Nepali people are really nice, a little desperate for money, but really nice. We also noticed that tourists in Nepal seem to be nicer, and more willing to talk to you than in India. It’s a strange situation, but generally in India other tourists would be hesitant to talk to us, if not look straight through us and pretend that we weren’t there! I wonder if anyone else has had that experience?

Pokhara became the centre for volunteers packing up and donating supplies to help the people affected, There were lots of meetings, information points, and donation points which even after 4 days reached numbers such as 75000 Nepali Rupees. A big sum in Nepal! It was great to see a big effort towards helping the people affected in the small villages.

The city become more anxious towards the end of our stay, with the shopkeepers becoming seemingly more desperate to charge you more for their services. We got charged 2200 rupees, roughly £20, for a haircut, and a massage for each of us. It might not sound like a lot but if you consider a hair cut in India cost me maximum £2 then it starts to seem a little desperate.

We left on the bus and made our way East towards Kathmandu, following the trucks and jeeps full of aid before turning off to the south and the border.

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Another interesting thing I observed in Nepal, if a car is broken down on the road, they put a branch of a tree on it somewhere to let other drivers know that they can’t move.

By the way, has anyone taken the highway through past Chitwan National Park towards the border at Sonauli before? The mountain road rises and falls steeply at a really surprising rate and gives an unimpeded view of the Terai plains below. Spectacular! And a little scary.